First Drive: 2011 Dodge Charger

2011 Dodge Charger Rear Three Quarters

Much-needed new six, much-loved old eight
Chrysler’s new six-cylinder steps in for both the 3.5-liter and 2.7-liter V-6 engines available in last year’s car. The 3.6-liter V-6 delivers a 42-hp increase over the 3.5-liter, making 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s a much-needed modernization of Chrysler’s six-cylinder, with a refined demeanor, competitive output, and slight fuel economy gains.

As good as the V-6 is, we’re still fans of the Charger R/T’s V-8, even if it is the same 5.7-liter Hemi from last year. Now making an additional 2 hp for a total of 370 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, the V-8 delivers thrust from down low, making up for any shortcomings in the transmission (more on that in a moment). The Hemi continues to use cylinder deactivation during low-load cruising, but Dodge has renamed it from Multi-Displacement System to Fuel Saving Technology. (EPA fuel economy numbers for either engine haven’t been released yet.)

Rear-wheel-drive remains standard with either engine, while all-wheel-drive can be had on eight-cylinder cars. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, and it’s undoubtedly the Charger’s weakest asset. It is slow, abrupt on aggressive downshifts, and sometimes unpredictable in how it responds to throttle inputs. In manual mode, it’s often unresponsive, not to mention that the tap-left-to-downshift, tap-right-to-upshift layout is both unintuitive and uninviting. Chrysler has recently announced a plan to begin producing eight-speed automatic transmissions designed by German supplier ZF, and while that gearbox isn’t confirmed for the Charger, it would be an obvious application. It can’t arrive soon enough.

A sporting sedan
With new spring and damper rates and new bushings throughout the suspension, the Charger’s ride has settled down while the handling benefits from changes like adding negative camber front and rear. The net effect is that Dodge engineers have made meaningful handling improvements without compromising passenger comfort. Its large size and heavy curb weight (4253 pounds with a V-8) keep the Charger from claiming a “sport sedan” label outright, but the car is far sportier than anything else offered in the segment. The new leather-wrapped, smaller-diameter steering wheel is attached to new hardware. The power steering pump is now electrically driven for fuel economy benefits, but the driver reaps his rewards from the faster steering rack. In all, it provides positive on-center response with the consistent effort that hydraulic steering typically offers.

A Super Track Pack adds larger front and rear anti-roll bars, a lower rear axle ratio, Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, upgraded shocks, and three-mode stability control. Only in cars with the Super Track Pack can stability control be fully turned off.

No more apologies
With the 2011 updates, Dodge has polished the Charger that can compete on far more than the fact that it’s a rare rear-wheel-drive car in a front-wheel-drive segment. The interior refinements and ride improvements allow the Charger to easily stand up to the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus. While it still hits hard with emotional appeal and the handling benefits of rear-wheel-drive, the Charger no longer needs to apologize for massive shortcomings. Pricing for the 2011 Charger starts at $25,995 with V-8 models starting at $30,995.

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I found good ideas at AutoAnything but wanted to hear ideas from a reviewer
When I went to the LA Auto Show last year, the Charger was one of the most popular rides there. Great review. Can you do a follow up covering the tops mods to outfit on the 2011 charger?

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